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Saturday, September 18, 2021

This Week in Science

Medical Technology:
A 16-year-old in London has recently been fitted with a bionic arm to replace the arm he lost to meningitis as a child. What’s more impressive, however, is that he can control his arm from a smartphone. It runs off a rechargeable battery, and can articulate over 25 common gestures such as shaking hands, pinching and even a trigger motion. The arm is controlled directly via an iPhone or iPad, and after getting over the initial learning curve, has proved to be a life-changing technology.

Astronomy:
There is a lot of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere, but there wasn’t always. Researchers looking at data from the Herschel Space Observatory have concluded that all the water in Jupiter’s atmosphere was brought there by an asteroid impact that occurred in 1994. While 19 years may seem like a long time to us, in astronomical terms, it is a mere instant. This discovery was only possible due to Herschel’s astounding sensitivity to infrared light, and the ability to distinguish the emission lines consistent with gaseous water. Now that the origin of water on Jupiter has been established, the researchers are beginning to understand the origin of water in our entire solar system.

Cinnamon:
Unsurprising to many, it turns out that the infamous Cinnamon Challenge is actually quite damaging to your lungs. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics has shown that the cinnamon challenge, where one must attempt to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in under 60 seconds, can cause extreme burning and inflammation of tissue in the mouth, nose, throat and esophagus by coating the mouth and drying out all of the saliva glands. Since the challenge went viral on YouTube last year, there have been 222 calls to Poison Control Centers, 122 of which required immediate medical attention. Some of the more extreme cases resulted in participants being on artificial respiration for an extended period of time.

Alternative Energy:
A group of researchers from the University of Exeter along with support from Shell Oil has come up with a way to make bacteria produce diesel fuel on demand. The diesel produced by the E. coli bacteria is nearly identical to the diesel fuel commonly used today, so it does not need to be blended with other petroleum products for it to function properly. It also means that these bacteria can produce nearly unlimited fuel, without the need for consumers to modify their vehicles.

Cancer:
Usually, bacteria and radiation have lots of negative juju associated with them, but recently, a study published in PNAS has shown that injecting tumors with irradiated bacteria can effectively deliver lethal radiation to the tumor, killing the tumor. The method exploits the way that tumors suppress our natural immune response. The irradiated bacteria enter our system and the tumor, and our immune system clears out the bacteria from our entire body, except for where the immune system is suppressed, such as the tumor. That way, the radiation stays in the tumor, effectively killing it. In a rat model, rats with pancreatic cancer that were injected with the irradiated bacteria had 90% fewer metastases after several doses.

Solar Power:
Even our most efficient solar panels available today are only about 45% efficient. A new collaboration is aiming to make a solar cell that is 80% efficient, and can concentrate the power of about 2,000 suns. What’s more, the new system will cost about one-third of existing solar systems. The solar system uses a set of parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight from multiple areas onto a single spot. Each 1-by-1 centimeter mirror generated about 250 watts of electricity, and since there are thousands of these tiny mirrors, the entire system can generate over 25 kilowatts during a typical sunny, 8-hour day. There is even a brand new cooling system that can maintain safe temperatures even when concentrating 5,000 solar equivalents.

Robotics:
Humans often find themselves empathizing with robots. This may sound far-fetched until we think about the T-101 from Terminator or Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Many of you are already familiar with how attached you became to your Furbies, and how much you love your Roombas. A recent study from the University of Duisburg in Germany has found that humans have very similar brain functions when shown videos of violence/affection for robots and other humans. This means that when people were shown videos of cruelty towards robots, they experienced the same mental reaction when they were shown videos of cruelty towards humans. As robots become more and more prevalent in our lives, the ethics of robot treatment will become a bigger issue.

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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